For a tenured MSU women's volleyball roster, the blue NCAA banners draped around Jenison Fieldhouse of the NCAA volleyball Championship didn't distract from the task at hand Friday night. The No. 9-seed Spartans, making their sixth consecutive tournament appearance, showcased their experience and displayed their composure, racing ahead to early set leads en route to a 3-0 victory over the lower-ranked Fairfield Stags.
The night began promisingly for MSU, with a 3-0 opening kindled by the service of senior setter Rachel Minarick. With offensive hitter Brooke Kranda's spike, the Spartans augmented the first-set lead to 11-5. Yet, the Stags started to re-establish their footing with a 4-2 spell, capped off by a Skyler Day kill that moved the meter to 13-9.
Then, redshirt junior offensive hitter Brooke Kranda thundered two aces into the heart of the Fairfield defense, launching the Spartans ahead to a 17-9. MSU emerged with the game's momentum, and the Spartans completed their 7-2 run with a 21-11 scoreline. Two deft, no-look tips from Minarick confounded the Fairfield defense and fostered the surge.
At set point, Minarick popped a ball over to junior Holly Toliver for the opening 25-14 set win.
MSU finished the first set with a .393 attack conversion rate, holding Fairfield to .000. Kranda, senior Chloe Reinig and junior Autumn Bailey had three kills apiece, with Minarick distributing nine assists.
The second set swayed evenly at the beginning, with the Stags ahead 4-3 seven serves through. MSU once again rallied behind a five-point comeback, though, marked by Bailey's two kills and a crucial block in the process. Still early, the Spartans led 8-3.
After junior offensive hitter Megan Thriller responded for Fairfield, the Spartans took three straight points, as Toliver wound two indefensible serves into the defensive side. Her service error stagnated the MSU movement, but not before MSU was ahead 11-6. After MSU captured an 18-9 advantage, Fairfield called a timeout--only for Kranda's cross-body kill to worsen the deficit.
Unable to divert the current flow of the game, Fairfield fell behind 22-13, and Bailey did the rest. The 5'10 offensive hitter's three kills sent MSU into the break ahead two sets to zero. MSU converted .417 of attacks in the frame for a 25-13 victory.
The Spartans picked up where they left off at the start of the third set, bracing several Fairfield attacks to establish an early 5-3 advantage. MSU capitalized when two of its best servers stepped to the line.
Toliver marched up and laced an ace, and when the service turned over to Bailey, she had one of her own. The two had five points between them in the movement, and MSU lurched into a 12-5 advantage.
Fairfield responded with two consecutive points, but MSU was steadily in control. Substitute Megan Tompkins served three straight points for the Spartans, and Fairfield was unable to climb out from behind despite several runs. MSU reached the 20-point mark ahead 20-14, while nine Fairfield errors in the set had encumbered the Stags' chances for a comeback.
At the 24-15 match point, Bailey struck her attempt into an awkward position for Fairfield, and although the Stags bumbled the final exchange back over, Toliver killed the game against the out-of-position defense.
MSU exited the match with 38 kills and a .354 hitting percentage. Bailey led the Spartans with eight kills, and Minarick passed 32 assists on the night. Fairfield was led by Megan Theiller, who had 12 kills on the evening. As a team, the Spartans had 10 blocks to Fairfield's two.
The Spartans will host Arizona tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. for a place in the Sweet Sixteen. The Wildcats, who received votes in the AVCA poll, swept Cleveland State in the earlier match at Jenison Fieldhouse.
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